Recently, I was asked about the challenges of working while pregnant. I admitted that some of my best work was created when I was pregnant or had a newborn. It can be such a fertile period in one’s life, I explained while gesturing in big wide circles around my body, around the trees nearby. How can we balance motherhood and personal career goals and do they have to be mutually exclusive? That seems less and less likely as so many of us are working with our children by our side, especially in these days of lockdown. It is inevitable that these aspects of our lives are intricately intertwined.
When we recorded the album Lone Jack Pine I was four months pregnant. As Barre Phillips carried his bass into the studio, I pointed to my belly and said, “I’m making you a roadie from scratch!”. I was able to sing pretty normally that day but later on when we added a few more tracks and my belly grew huge, my diaphragm jammed up I dunno where, I had half of my usual power. I moved the microphone closer and leaned in a little.
I was heavily pregnant with our second son when I first met Paul Bley. Michel and I joined him for breakfast near Place des Arts here in Montreal and then continued along to lunch at a Cajun restaurant nearby. He chuckled when I ordered a big heaping plate of bbq ribs (eating for two!). He had a discreet portion of shrimp cocktail so it wasn’t long before he was reaching over to steal French fries from my plate as he gave Michel advice on how to cope with babies, cats and gardens. He said it was funny how invincible some women felt as they approached the end of their pregnancies, how they suddenly insisted that they wanted to be firemen or figure skaters. It was too true. Being a fireman felt utterly doable to me at the eight month mark. Needless to say I did not follow up on that urge.
The night before we recorded Sand Underfoot Paul, Barre, Michel and I met for dinner at a Greek restaurant near our house on the Plateau. It was a warm night at a lovely outdoor patio and the guys were mulling philosophical creative thoughts, how film would overtake music as the most innovative art form, things like that. But it was getting late so I stood up and said, sorry everyone, I need to head back to the house now. I have to nurse the baby. They stopped in their tracks and asked, but how will that work tomorrow, in the studio? I didn’t stop to explain but just quickly assured them it would be ok. As I ran off down the dark street, engorged, I thought, honestly, the things men don’t have to worry about!
I’ve read many biographies of women in the arts that arrive at a gap that says “and then she was busy raising her children for a few decades”. Or they describe it as a hiatus. But we don’t ever stop, do we? Maybe we let all the marketing fall by the wayside if we’ve ever figured it out in the first place. Maybe we lie in a heap after a day spent bundling our boys into a ball on a bench on a pier (as in this photo). But we don’t actually ever stop. Because after all, don’t children deserve interesting mothers?
When the boys were small I recorded jazz versions of children’s songs and when Bebop for Babies went on tour they came on stage and played with us (air guitar, toy piano, stuffed animals, signs). The little kids in the audience loved seeing performers their size on stage at a show. Plus the concerts were during the day, perfect when you collapse early at night. Then they recorded three albums of their own original songs before the age of twelve. They won’t let me share them but honestly, they are so great. As teenagers, after we built a studio in our backyard, they continued recording with their friends. A few of those songs travelled out as school projects but again, no sharing has been allowed so you just have to believe me.
These days you can find them on Genius Loci East, playing gamelan and singing. JJ, the eldest, has a fine producer’s sense and so sequences our albums for us. And Theo, aside from producing rap cover art, makes art for the music videos of my releases. Here is the latest of those, the first track from Lone Jack Pine Live, based on his impressions of the Borobudur temple near Yogyakarta, not far from our ancestral homeland where my grandmother was born.
It has been a whirlwind of activity and now that they are older I have more time to look back to see what got left in the dust. As I no longer need to spend hours each day making sure my kids don’t tumble down the stairs or get abducted on their way to school, or cross the street without looking or whatever other time consuming things mothering small children involves, I have found the occasional quiet and the software to do it myself. It has also provided me with a way to move forward while yet holding still during this global pandemic.
Recently I overcame a mental hurdle that said I needed to understand all audio editing with its gargantuan permutations of possibilities before I could start. Thus I freed myself from the hierarchy of conventional, expensive studios where I would often have to beg someone disinterested to give me the sound I wanted. Now I just tackle each problem as it comes up and do the work myself. I get a lot of encouragement from my brother Reg who shares my nerdy tendencies, his collection of gear and discoveries of great plug-ins.
Not long ago I revived Ask Her, shook it off and uploaded it for streaming, and miraculously it has now been released in Japan for the first time where it is being greeted with a delightfu reception. It’s wonderful to discover a new audience for the music that was only heard by a few at the time. I am encouraged and I have more treasures to share.
Now I am reviving two other recordings for release. The first is a rare recording of a concert Michel and I performed with Barre soon after releasing Lone Jack Pine the cd and thus titled Lone Jack Pine Live. It includes the only performance of my poem Thoughts of Being Female from Picnic Table Two with Barre and new versions of three other poems from the album, Borobudur, The Visit and Lone Jack Pine. It is a 20 minute set improvised around these melodic poems and despite the full house the audience is so quiet you could hear a pin drop.
Barre and his wife Mary have been important influences in my quest to live life by intuition. Mary began the first dreamsharing groups I ever joined, working with me, my mother Agatha and Mary’s good friend Erika nearly daily for several years. We shared our dreams and tried creative exercises to sharpen our dreaming skills. We developed our intuition together this way, as well as our writing skills, and used what we learned to navigate our families in helpful creative directions. I’m mentioning it here as so often the women in creative circles are overlooked and yet their contributions are so invaluable.
At the same time Barre has been a large musical force who inspires me with his dedication to his art, his majestic sound and the beauty of his music. His attention to his own dreaming led him to settling an ancient village on top of a mountain in France with Mary and their family. It’s yet another inspiring example of what is possible when you approach life with courage and inventiveness.
So here is the concert, based on years of communication on multiple levels. It’s on Bandcamp and you can also pick up a hard copy of the original Lone Jack Pine cd there if you don’t already have it. Start with that and I’ll write about the next recording to be revived soon. It’s called Something I Said.